Is it time to just assume life causes cancer?

At times it seems like the list of things that’ll give you cancer is infinite. Things once considered perfectly safe are later shown to be the cause of countless deaths. Now it appears we might have to add grilling meat to that list:

Cancer risk from grilled meat: Is it time to give up smoked and fried foods?

A growing body of research suggests that cooking meats over a flame is linked to cancer. Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Exposure to these so-called PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach, and several other types of cancer in lab animals. Epidemiological studies link occupational exposure to PAHs to cancer in humans. When PAHs from a flame mingle with nitrogen, say from a slab of meat, they can form nitrated PAHs, or NPAHs. NPAHs are even more carcinogenic than PAHs in laboratory experiments. The reasonable conclusion is that grilling meat may be hazardous to your health.

This idea isn’t new, but is the result of decades of research stretching back to the 1960s. Grilling isn’t the only culprit either. Frying can be pretty bad as well:

Frying bacon, for example,produces significant levels of PAHs, probably due to volatilization of carbon in the bacon itself. An Iranian study published last year found that people who develop certain kinds of gastrointestinal cancers are more likely to have a diet high in fried rather than boiled foods. (The researchers linked level of browning to cancer incidence, thus reducing the likelihood that oil consumption was the culprit.) The FDA and WHO also remain concerned about the presence in food of acrylamides, a known carcinogen that forms from sugar and amino acids when cooked at high temperatures. Long-term studies are currently underway. The worrying implication is that cooking foods at high heat, even without active combustion, may be dangerous.

The thing is, cooking food is something humans have done for tens of thousands of years and modern humans may never have become possible without it. There are a lot of things that cause cancer that I can live without: smoking, asbestos, drinking too much booze, etc., but cooking my food is not one of them.

The link between grilling/frying meat and cancer isn’t quite as solid as the link between smoking and cancer, but there was a time you could’ve said the same about smoking and as time went on and more studies were done that link became more and more evident. It’s not a stretch to assume the same may happen here.

So should we toss out our grills and deep fryers? If you’re one of the sorts of folks who feel that any chance of cancer is too much of a chance to take then, yes, you should. Along with anything else that appears to be linked to causing cancer (and good luck with that effort). Personally, I’m going to go with the strategy of being aware of the risk and sticking to moderation. Surprisingly enough, my diet is already pretty low on grilled/fried foods. I may still get cancer at some point because we have a family history of it, but it could come from any of a hundred different sources the least of which is how my food is prepared. The way things are going currently, I’m more likely to succumb to diabetes before cancer gets a chance to do any damage. Then there’s the fact that no matter what I do, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and make it all a moot point.

I suppose I could go vegan, but I’m pretty sure that’d make me miserable because, dammit, hunks of dead cow steaks and hamburgers are just too fucking tasty to not enjoy from time to time. Part of the problem I’m having with losing weight is because exercise makes me miserable and thus I’m finding it very hard to motivate myself to do it regularly. Giving up meat would be even worse and I’m not about to try it. If I end up shaving a couple of years off the end of my life for my love of a good bit of beef then that’s a price I’ll have to pay.

Which brings me to the title of this post which was a thought I had while reading about this growing consensus. Are we worrying too much about cancer? With all the myriad ways one can shuffle off their mortal coil it seems like we overly hyperventilate every time a new study comes around about a cancer risk. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the issue (on the contrary, being aware of risks helps you to manage them), but even if you could somehow eliminate all exposure to everything that could possibly give you cancer there’s still a chance based solely on your genetics that you will get cancer. Our ability to cure cancer has never been better and a lot of the different types you can get are no longer guaranteed death sentences. The key, I think, is awareness, moderation of risks, and regular health checkups to catch it as early as possible if it does rear its ugly head. We’re all going to die of something eventually and for a lot of us it’s not going to be cancer that does it.

Not entirely sure this makes as much sense as I thought it would, but it’s what I was thinking.

A small update on my whereabouts.

keep-calm-and-fuck-cancer-15I’ve not posted anything in over a week and I apologize for that, but I have a good excuse. I was waiting, along with the rest of my wife’s family, for the inevitable to happen. Last Thursday my father-in-law lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

This is the third time in my life that I’ve watched a family member slowly subcomb to the insidiously slow death that cancer brings with it. The first time was when my biological father died of it 40 years ago when I was five years old. He was only 55 at the time. I wasn’t old enough to really understand what was happening, but that didn’t stop the experience from leaving me a little emotionally messed up for awhile.

The second time was my grandfather back in my 20’s. He at least made it into his 70’s before passing. I wasn’t there for the bitter end and, because of other obligations, only saw him a few times over the months that he suffered from the disease.

My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer almost 10 months ago and he lived a lot longer than his doctors expected him to. I, along with my wife and her family, were at his bedside at the end though I suspect he had vacated well before that point arrived. He didn’t look like the man who had welcomed me into his family with open arms despite the fact that I’m an independent Liberal atheist and he was a moderate Republican episcopal. He was literally a shell that was holding onto life for as long as it could manage even as various parts of his system were failing. It was not an easy thing to experience, but then that’s something that far too many people are familiar with. Then the situation was compounded by learning shortly after his death — while viewing and funeral arrangements were being made — that the wife of a longtime friend of mine had passed away from cancer on Saturday.

Lets just say that it wasn’t a good weekend. Needless to say, I’ve not had much inspiration to write anything during this time. Though I intend to try and get back into writing more often in the near future. It seems I’ve been coming across things that I want to blog about more often as of late so I’ll try to actually get around to doing so.

That’s what I’ve been up to. What about you guys?

The potential one shot Leukemia cure that almost never happened.

There’s a new experimental cure for the most common form of Leukemia that has scientists stunned at how successful it is with only a single injection. And it almost never came about due to lack of funding:

Doctors had told Bill Ludwig, one of the research volunteers, that he would die from his leukemia within weeks. Then he got the experimental treatment a year ago.

With tears welling up, he told NBC, “I’m more closer to the people I love and I appreciate them more… I’m getting emotional… the grass is greener and flowers smell wonderful.”

The other two patients have chosen to remain anonymous but one who happens to be a scientist himself wrote,  “I am still trying to grasp the enormity of what I am a part of  — and of what the results will mean to countless others with CLL or other forms of cancer. When I was a young scientist, like many I’m sure, I dreamed that I might make a discovery that would make a difference to mankind – I never imagined I would be part of the experiment.”

via New leukemia treatment exceeds ‘wildest expectations’ – Health – Cancer – msnbc.com.

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania published research on Wednesday on their efforts to come up with a treatment for chroniclymphocytic leukemia (CLL) which is the most common form of Leukemia. Usually it’s treated with chemotherapy, but that’ll just keep it at bay. The only way to cure it previously was via a bone marrow transplant which only has about a 50% success rate and brings with it a whole host of problems.

This new treatment involves using a modified version of the HIV virus to insert modified genes into white blood cells collected from the patient which makes the white blood cells into lean, mean, cancer killing machines. They cultivate a whole bunch of these new super-powered white blood cells and then inject them back into the patient:

In similar past experimental treatments for several types of cancer the re-injected white cells killed a few cancer cells and then died out. But the Penn researchers inserted a gene that made the white blood cells multiply by a thousand fold inside the body. The result, as researcher June put it, is that the white blood cells became “serial killers” relentlessly tracking down and killing the cancer cells in the blood, bone marrow and lymph tissue.

As the white cells killed the cancer cells, the patients experienced the fevers and aches and pains that one would expect when the body is fighting off an infection, but beyond that the side effects have been minimal.

How awesome is that? That’s pretty fucking awesome! So why did it almost not happen?

Both the National Cancer Institute and several pharmaceutical companies declined to pay for the research. Neither applicants nor funders discuss the reasons an application is turned down. But good guesses are the general shortage of funds and the concept tried in this experiment was too novel and, thus, too risky for consideration.

The researchers did manage to get a grant from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, a charity founded by Barbara and Edward Netter after their daughter-in-law died of cancer. The money was enough to finance the trials on the first three patients.

There’s still a ways to go before this will become widely available, but it’s a stunning result so far to cure two out of three people and on the one it didn’t cure it still made a helluva difference. Most exciting is the fact that this technique could possibly be effective on other forms of cancer as well. The good news is that there should be plenty of funding coming in now to really put it to the test and see if these results are a fluke or a real breakthrough.

*Science. It works, bitches graphic lifted from the XKCD store where you can buy it on a t-shirt!

Daniel Hauser’s father now has leukemia.

Remember Daniel Hauser, the (at the time) 13-year-old illiterate kid out of Minnesota who was ordered by the court to get chemotherapy to treat his cancer over the protests of his alt-med preferring parents? His mother took off with him rather than follow through on the court order, but after a few days they eventually showed up again and complied with the judgement on the stipulation that his parents could include alternative treatments as part of his therapy. Six months later Daniel finished his last chemotherapy treatment as was cancer free.

You’d think the parents would’ve learned a lesson from this experience. A lesson they can now apply as Daniel’s father has just been diagnosed with leukemia himself:

One year ago today, Danny Hauser, from Sleepy Eye, MN, flew to California with his mother to avoid going through court-ordered chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Authorities and the FBI searched for Danny and his mother for six days, before the two finally returned to Minnesota. Danny eventually went through chemotheraphy and radiation and is now in remission.

A close family friend of the Hauser’s, Dan Zwakman confirms Danny’s father, Anthony Hauser, was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks ago after feeling ill and exhausted for the past month.

Zwakman says Hauser is choosing to treat  his leukemia using natural healing treatments instead of going through chemotherapy. The Hauser family, who lives on a farm in rural Minnesota, holds a strong belief in the advantages of alternative medicine and natural supplements.

Nope, they didn’t learn a goddamn thing.

But that’s OK. His father, being a legal adult, has every right to refuse proven medical treatments in favor of alt-med bullshit if he really wants to. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the cancer will go into remission on its own. I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation of that happening, but it’s been known to happen every now and then. The article does note that Anthony has had three blood transfusions over the past several weeks so perhaps he’ll come to his senses before it’s too late to do anything about it.

If it’s the same leukemia his son had — Hodgkin’s lymphoma — then it’s one of the more curable cancers you can get. When treated properly survival rates are between 85 and 98% depending on factors such as your age and how early it was detected. Even with a worst-case scenario an 85% chance to cure it is pretty outstanding. What constitutes proper treatment? Chemotherapy. I’m not sure what his chances of survival are without chemo, but Daniel’s doctors only have him a 5% chance of making it with the treatment. Being that his father is older I’d guess his chances are even more remote, but I guess we’ll find out before too long.

One interesting side note: In researching this entry I learned that the current staging system for lymphomas is named after the town it was developed in: Ann Arbor, where I currently reside.

Remembering My Father

It was seven years ago today that I sat in a small room at a hospice in Baltimore, Maryland and watched my father take his last breath.

He had small cell cancer from a lifetime of smoking and drinking. The doctors had declared it terminal less than a year before. My Mom took care of him from home and for the last couple of months, my wife, Tia, and I stayed with them to help.

It is immeasurably difficult to watch a loved one deteriorate in the way that he did. To go from someone you can sit and talk with about the latest British mystery show running on PBS (his favorite topic) to someone who would just sit on the couch, cigarette in one hand (often unlit), beer in the other, doped to the gills on morphine and unable to speak while his body ate him away from the inside.

The transition was quick, only a few weeks and he no longer seemed to know who we were or where he was. As all signs of the man I knew slipped away, we decided to move him to the hospice. We felt the quality of his life, for his last few days, would be better under professional care. It was not an easy decision.

An ambulance took him to the facility and my mother, Tia and I followed after. It took about an hour to get him checked in and settled into his room. He sat on the edge of the bed like it was his couch and his fingers, clutched at an imaginary cigarette, went to his lips, again and again.

 

It was very late, or very early I suppose, and we had left the house without money or food. I told Mom and Tia to go back to the house, to eat and get cleaned up. I told them that I’d wait with Dad.

I watched him while they were gone. Vacantly staring straight ahead, totally oblivious to me, his breathing ragged, in and out, in and out, in and out,…. Then it stopped. No warning, no other sign, just one second he was breathing, the next, he was gone.

I don’t remember much of what followed. I know that a nurse led me from his room, that Tia and my Mother returned and that they took me home, but those memories exist in a kind of haze.

I thought that the memory of his death and the month of pain that preceded it would eventually fade, that the memories would become easier to deal with as time passed. It hasn’t worked that way, for me. It some ways, those moments have grown sharper and more painful.

I still purposefully face those memories every year, allowing the pain so that I can remember the good moments. The times we sat on the porch, chatting and drinking a beer, the times we spent watching Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Morse, the times (few as they were) that we went fishing.

My father and I, we were very different people. We didn’t have much in common, didn’t spend much time together. I’ll have my regrets about that for the rest of my life.

He had his flaws, we all do, but Bobby Gene Glover was a good man, and I miss him.

Tammy Faye Messner succumbs to cancer.

So many things I had intended to blog about over the weekend before the power decided to take a two day vacation and this bit of news was one of them.

It took a couple of years, but Tammy Faye has lost her battle against cancer:

(CNN)—Tammy Faye Messner, the former televangelist and Christian singer who battled drug addiction and later inoperable cancer, died Friday morning, CNN’s Larry King said Saturday night. He said the family had asked him to make the delayed announcement.

She was 65.

Messner was a guest on “Larry King Live” on Thursday. She told him she couldn’t swallow food, and weighed only 65 pounds.

I caught that CNN interview by chance while at work as The Automotive Company™ has a number of televisions scattered around the various lunch areas and break rooms in their buildings that periodically switch to CNN over the lunch hours. When I first looked up I thought I was seeing a promo for a new zombie movie or something because I would’ve sworn the skeletal figured smiling at me from the TV had to be a product of some Hollywood special effects shop, but no. It was Tammy Faye:


Click to embiggen. If you dare.

Tammy holds a unique spot in my heart because an entry I wrote about her getting cancer was one of the first ones to earn me a rebuke from more than one of my regular readers. My entry was mean-spirited because I had no real sympathy for the woman considering all the damage I felt she’d done over the years to so many other people.

When I saw her on Larry King the other day I have to admit that I finally felt a pang or two of sympathy for her. As you can see she looked absolutely terrible and I gotta give her credit for sitting there and doing her best to have a positive attitude given the state she was in. I still can’t say that I’m sorry to see her leave this world behind, but I can say that I do have a little sympathy for her after all. I’ve watched a number of people grow sick with cancer and I have a good idea of what she probably went through. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Not even Tammy Faye.